Al-Madinah Muslim Free School Taking Legal Advice Over Damning Letter From Lord Nash

A Muslim free school which discriminated against women and required staff to cover their hair has said it is seeking legal advice over the way it has been treated by government.

Al-Madinah Free School in Derby said it was struggling to see how it was being treated comparably with other schools.

The statement comes just days after Schools Minister Lord Nash wrote to the school, warning that swift action must be taken to address concerns over the way it is being run, or risk closure.

A sign notifying of an Ofsted inspection at the entrance to the Al-Madinah Secondary School in Derby, a Muslim free school

In a highly critical letter to chairman of the governors Shazia Parveen, Lord Nash said the school had failed to keep pupils safe, provide a good education and had discriminated against female staff.

He said the school had ''manifestly breached'' its conditions, and can expect to lose its state funding - effectively forcing it to close down - if it does not take action.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail reported that mother Jacqueline Crossley, 53, has said she was not allowed to sit next to her son at a school awards ceremony, because of segregated seating, and said her son was banned from looking at female students and is the only non-religious pupil at the school in Derby.

She has now decided to withdraw the 14-year-old from the school after claiming he was forced to join lessons with five-year-olds when he opted out of lessons studying the Qu'ran.

The school's founding headteacher Andrew Cutts-Mckay left after less than a year in post. He was quoted as saying, before the school opened, that it would "honour all faiths" and would have 50% non-Muslim pupils.

In a response published on its website, Al-Madinah said the Al-Madinah Education Trust, which runs the school, and the governing body remained "fully committed" to doing what is in the best interests of pupils, parents and the community.

It went on to say: "However, at this point, the school is struggling to see how we are being treated comparably with other schools.

"Consequently, while we intend to co-operate fully with the Department for Education, we have also sought the advice of the school's solicitors."

Lord Nash's letter, sent last Tuesday, set out 17 issues for the school to address, including providing evidence within a week that it has stopped any practices that lead to women and girls being treated ''less favourably'' than men and boys.

It also had to notify all staff that they are not required to cover their hair if it is against their religion or beliefs.

Recently, there have been reports in the media that female teachers at the school were forced to wear hijabs even if they were not Muslim.

Other reports claimed that girls were made to sit at the back of the classroom and boys at the front.

Interim principal Stuart Wilson told the BBC earlier this month that he had not received any complaints from colleagues over the school's dress code and denied that pupils had been split up.

It has been reported today that the school is now changing its policies to support staff who do not want to cover their hair.

In its published response to Lord Nash's letter, the school said Ms Parveen had been given less than an hour's notice by the Department for Education (DfE) that the letter was to be published.

"To say that this letter came out of the blue was an understatement," the school said, adding that it had been given to understand that any communication would go through "the usual tried and tested channels and according to established timescales".

The school said it understood the minister's concerns clustered broadly around three areas - health and safety of pupils, governance and finance-related issues, and educational standards.

It said Ofsted inspectors had turned up unexpectedly last Monday and, during their visit, scrutinised health and safety arrangements and concluded that the school had been right to reopen. Al-Madinah had closed to pupils the week before just hours after Ofsted arrived for a full inspection.

The statement also said that the school was co-operating fully with an ongoing investigation by the Education Funding Agency, and had co-operated with the full Ofsted inspection at the beginning of the month.

Al-Madinah, which is one of the Government's flagship free schools, opened in September last year.

On its website it describes ''a strong Muslim ethos'' with shorter holidays and longer school days ''to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success''.

Ofsted confirmed last week that its report into Al-Madinah Free School is due to be published shortly.

The watchdog also said the school's principal took the decision to shut due to inspectors' concerns that records showing whether staff were cleared to supervise children were missing or incomplete.

While Ofsted's findings have not been finalised and none has been published, reports suggest the watchdog will judge it ''inadequate'', the lowest rating.

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